Into the Wild - Page 2
Photo by Rachid Dahnoun
Because there’s no one around, I say to the trailhead sign, “I hope to see you soon.” I head up the access trail a half mile as peach-colored sunrise light bathes the landscape, then make a right to begin my counterclockwise Lake Tahoe circumnavigation. My pack is as heavy as it’s going to get, 24 pounds, which includes enough water to get me through the mostly dry terrain above the lake’s east side. This load represents a bit more than 20 percent of my body weight and makes running a challenge. You could call my movement, averaging about four miles per hour, a “trot.”
There are bumps and knolls, climbing and descending, but the trail is remarkably smooth and runnable. Tough terrain typically dictates rest breaks, but today I let the best views of Lake Tahoe decide where to stop and sit. Lake Tahoe is famous for its blue color, and throughout the day that hue shifts, mimicking the sky’s slight color changes. During my breaks, I snack from baggies of nuts, dried fruit and one of my trail indulgences, corn nuts flavored like ranch dressing.
The TRT crosses Highway 50 at Spooner Summit, which is jam-packed with traffic moving fast, headed toward Fourth of July celebrations around the lake. My journey is just 18 miles old and already the pace of these cars feels frightening, chaotic. I eventually make my way across and back onto the trail, and now empathize with wildlife panicking and darting across highways like this one.
I dip off the TRT a short distance to Spooner Lake for my first water refill. Knowing that humans frequent the lake, I carefully purify my water before returning to the trail. Poofy, cotton-candy clouds dot the sky, but today’s forecast indicates that some of these may sprout into thunderstorms. I’ve got some above-treeline travel in the 10 or so miles between me and tonight’s stopping point, the Marlette Peak Campground, so I add a little oomph to my stride and arrive before the skies unleash.
Evening at Marlette Peak Campground is filled with lightning, thunder and intermittent rain. I set up my tarp beneath a protective stand of trees, keeping my gear almost entirely dry. When the storms abate, I meander the mile up to nearby Marlette Peak just before sunset. The sky is still grouchy everywhere but overhead, and I watch a bolt of lightning hit a hill to the southeast through a grey curtain of rain. Minutes later, a thin, white pillar of smoke starts to rise from the lightning-strike site. I realize I’ve watched a forest fire’s birth. Everything feels unsettled as I lie down to sleep.
I wake, feeling the sensation of close company. I flip on my flashlight and light up the green eyes and tawny form of a deer half inside my tarp. When I shout, the doe is unalarmed and slowly saunters away, then returns. We repeat the process all night.
I give up on sleeping around 4:30 a.m. when the first hints of amber overtake the midnight-blue sky. The deer approaches multiple times as I pack up, and when I open my bear can to pull out food, the human-acclimated deer runs toward me, scrapes one of her front hooves on the ground, then darts closer until she is just steps away. I throw rocks in her direction, hurriedly lace up and hit the trail, unrested and unfed.
I climb a couple hundred feet and a mile or so up the trail to a viewpoint just north of Marlette Peak and overlooking Lake Tahoe from its east side. It’s still pre-sunrise on Day Two. The eastern horizon is pale yellow and partially blocked by a veil of silver virga, leftovers from last evening’s persistent thunderstorms. And the brand-new wildfire has already grown into a hefty column. The western view is breathtaking: the sky and lake in matching, morning aquamarine and containing all of the terrain over which I will travel in the next five days. Away from the pesky deer, I pull out my stove to make tea and oats, feeling sleepy and slightly overwhelmed.
It is a rough day, and running feels impossible. I am only able to hike 15 miles in 10 hours. I blame it on the nutty deer and a poor dinner the prior night.